Generalized anxiety disorder is defined by a protracted (greater than or equal to 6 months’ duration) period of anxiety and worry, accompanied by multiple associated symptoms (DSM-IV). These symptoms include muscle tension, easy fatiguability, poor concentration, insomnia, and irritability. In youth, the condition is known as overanxious disorder of childhood.
In DSM-IV, an essential feature of generalized anxiety disorder is that the anxiety and worry cannot be attributable to the more focal distress of panic disorder, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other conditions. Rather, as implied by the name, the excessive worries often pertain to many areas, including work, relationships, finances, the well-being of one’ s family, potential misfortunes, and impending deadlines. Somatic anxiety symptoms are common, as are sporadic panic attacks.
Generalized anxiety disorder occurs more often in women, with a sex ratio of about 2 women to 1 man (Brawman-Mintzer & Lydiard, 1996). The 1-year population prevalence is about 3 percent.
Approximately 50 percent of cases begin in childhood or adolescence. The disorder typically runs a fluctuating course, with periods of increased symptoms usually associated with life stress or impending difficulties. There does not appear to be a specific familial association for general anxiety disorder. Rather, rates of other mood and anxiety disorders typically are greater among first-degree relatives of people with generalized anxiety disorder (Kendler et al., 1987).